In his book Outliers, the author Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to master a given skill, which I question. I’ve been a Quaker for nearly half a million hours and am no better at it than when I started. Hardly a day passes that I don’t buy something I don’t need, and at least once a week I want to conk someone on the noggin. Simplicity and peace are only two of our customs, we have three more — integrity, community, and equality — and I’m a flop at those too.
It troubles me that after doing something for 47 years, I’m no better at it than when I started. My mistake was embracing a religion with high ideals. If I had joined a religion that emphasized motorcycle riding, fried chicken, and taking naps, I’d be celebrated far and wide as a perfect saint. My followers would write books about me and hang on my every utterance. They would throw rose petals on my path and beg for my blessing. But no, I had to join a religion with ethical standards, and now I’ve let everyone down.
I picked my religion in a moment of weakness, smitten with a Quaker girl, who later spurned my advances and married a Methodist, teaching me a valuable lesson — that Methodists are sneaky and always end up with the girl. I paid the Methodists back by stealing away one of their own, slipping a ring on her finger, and convincing her to become a Quaker. Now she’s a better Quaker than I am, which isn’t hard, given my shortcomings, chief among them my tendency to make significant decisions for the shallowest of reasons.
Since I’ve spent most of my life as a Quaker, I’ve been thinking it might be time to try something new with the time I have left. This time, I won’t make the mistake of picking something alien to my natural inclinations. Plus, I haven’t been all that good about saving for retirement, so I need a religion that won’t cost me anything, which is why I’ve decided to become a Druid, who reveres nature, and worship trees.
My devotion to trees began when I was a kid, and my father hung a porch swing from the maple tree in our front yard. I would sit underneath its dense canopy, shaded from the summer sun and the occasional shower. I spent many contented hours under that maple, never realizing there was a religion dedicated to trees. Had I known, I would have joined it and saved myself, and Quakerism, a lot of heartache.
The nice thing about being a Druid is that I don’t have to confine my affections to just one tree. Maples, oaks, pines, poplars, I can love them all. There is not a jealous limb among them. Ten years ago, I dug up an oak tree in our woods and planted it in our yard. It has since grown tenfold, is beautifully formed, and now casts enough shade to cover the Adirondack chair I’ve placed beside it. I rest there easily, knowing the pines, dogwoods, and maples in my yard neither envy the oak nor demand my unalloyed affection. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the followers of Yahweh might have loathed the worshippers of Baal, but in my yard the trees sway in happy unison, each one grateful for the other.
Now scientists tell us that trees can communicate with one another. Every summer, I suspect the trees in my yard talk among themselves, wondering when I’m going to haul my butt out of my Adirondack chair and mow the lawn.
Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor and author of 22 books, including the Harmony and Hope series, featuring Sam Gardner.
This article is featured in the November/December 2023 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
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